Evoking Dutch Genre Paintings, Intimate Scenes Peer into the Lives of Mushroom Characters

September 27, 2021

Grace Ebert

“The Nap” (2021), oil on cradled wood panel, 16 x 20 inches. All images © Bella Ormseth, shared with permission

In her ongoing series Human Nature, Dutch artist Bella Ormseth paints lavish domestic scenes inhabited by central mushroom characters and a cohort of plants and oversized insects. The evocative subjects stem from those the artist encounters around her home in Puget Sound off the coast of Washington and are human-like in their gestures and poses, whether draped over a chair during a nap, embracing over wine and oysters, or staring out the window.

Each of the oil-based pieces is a study of Dutch genre paintings and their light, composition, color palettes, and techniques—Ormseth shares glimpses into her process and longer descriptions of specific references on her site. The ornate, tied-back curtains in “The Nap,” for example, mimic those in Johannes Vermeer’s recently restored “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window,” while “The Conversation” (shown below) works within the subgenre doorkijkje, or look-through, that offers a view of one room while in another, with the intimacy of family bonds present in Pieter de Hooch’s “The Bedroom” and “A Woman with a Child in a Pantry” apparent, as well.

Although the works glean elements common in the Dutch Golden Age, Ormseth veils each with contemporary contexts, including the pandemic-induced loneliness that exudes from the character in “Waiting by the Window.” She explains further in a statement:

Dutch genre paintings, with their depiction of everyday scenes of ordinary life, marked a significant turning point in Western art, away from biblical and historical subjects. It stirs me to see this elevating of domestic life to a subject of art—of seeing not only beauty but something profound in the everyday business of life… While I look to history for guidance, my paintings depict my own time. The idea for a painting always starts with an emotional response to something that is happening in the world, either in my own life or the world at large.

“The Nap” is currently on view through October 2 at Copro Gallery, and Ormseth is working on another Human Nature piece for a January group show at Roq La Rue Gallery in Seattle. She’s also starting new series about an adventurous group of women in the 1920s and their connection to the intertidal life of the Salish Sea, which you can follow on Instagram. (via This Isn’t Happiness)


“The Booth in the Back” (2020), oil on cradled wood panel, 24 x 18 inches

“Waiting by the Window” (2021), oil on cradled wood panel, 12 x 9 inches

“The Conversation” (2020), oil on cradled wood panel, 24 x 18 inches

“The Wish” (2020), oil on cradled wood panel, 20 x 16 inches

“Abandoned Reading” (2019), oil on cradled wood panel, 24 x 18 inches



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